Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Year of Reading -- Books Read in February

The 2015 Reading Challenge. I'm starting now!


February has come and gone (where did it go?)...  and our book group's reading challenge for February was to read a book on the best seller list. My online book group chose to pick a book from the New York Times bestsellers list for February and many of use became so engrossed in the books that one book became three (or four, or more!)




The first book I chose for the month was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This was a mystery/suspense/thriller and I was completely taken in from the first page. I think I finished the book in 3-4 days, which is record time for me. The main character/narrator is Rachel... a beautifully sensitive, ironic, and deeply flawed (yet completely lovable) young lady. She rides the train every day to work and you learn about "stories" she makes up about people and places she sees along the way every day. 

I loved this aspect of the story so much, because it's something that I also do... but before long Rachel gets involved in a story about two of the people she sees and she gets wrapped into a mystery that she unwillingly becomes a part of. It's hard to say too much about this story without giving anything away, so I'll leave it up to you to read more. I will say, this was my absolute favorite book of the month and I'll be reading/listening to it again soon and I look forward to reading more books by Paula Hawkins! (The aud*ible version of the book with the three different narrators including Louise Brealey of "Sherlock" fame was one of the best narrations I've listened to in a LONG time... who needs a movie!) 

For another great review, check out the write up on NPR. As soon as I finished the book I couldn't help but make a date with my husband to watch 'Rear Window' which has similar thriller/suspense storytelling!


Gone Girl (Flynn novel).jpg


The second book I read was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Several friends had read this book in the past year and they either loved it or hated it, especially the ending... so I was intrigued. Of all the books I read this month this was the one that "stuck" with me in terms of thinking about the overall themes and outcomes of the book. It was by far my LEAST favorite as far as story line and content... but it was a bewildering book in so many regards. If there is a book that has ever thrown me for a loop throughout the story, this one takes the cake. I was shocked, horrified, inspired, and awed. I don't know exactly how to categorize this book, but it definitely has major elements of suspense and mystery.

This book will truly leave you thinking. I think in some aspects I would coin it as a very brave book from the hands of the author. You will not leave this book liking the characters, truly enjoying the story, or learning/having any big moment of self-awareness or realization... what you will leave with is an utter sense of shock and bewilderment... and it will leave you thinking about people you know, about circumstances in life, and who knows what else... I imagine it will be very different for every reader. I recommend the book if you are okay with a lot of language, sexual scenes... however if are a victim of sexual violence or trauma, this book could may cause emotional triggers.




The third book I read was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. This book was full of surprises. I wasn't really sure what to expect from the book since it was centered around parents of children that go to a small elementary/primary school in a small town in England. I don't have children, so I'm not involved in the parental politics of dealing with the local PTA, cliques, and mommy wars... so I wasn't even sure if I would enjoy this book. However, it was a really fun and surprising read. I enjoyed how the book was written, and the characters in this book are extremely likable and relate-able.

This book is again part mystery/part suspense (my personal favorite genre!). The main character Madeline was definitely a favorite of mine throughout the entire story. As a parent who tries desperately to fit in with the group of moms surrounding her, yet also trying to take new friends under her wing, she's a truly realistic and fun character with a great family. She's constantly dealing with her past as well as trying to shape her future as a wife and mother of a blended family and as a good and loyal friend to those around her. There are many challenges and and frustrations she faces throughout the book, especially when it comes to the mystery within the book. I can't really say much about the mystery without giving away plot lines, but as with many in this genre, someone dies... just this time... at a PTA meeting... you know, the regular type of setting!

The intertwined friendships of Madeline, Jane, and Celeste are so relate-able and their narration throughout the book is intriguing and continually makes you want to read more. I'd definitely like to read this book over again, because in some ways I went through it so quickly (because I kept wanting to find out what happened), I missed out on a lot of great details.


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Afterthoughts: 

Big, Little, Lies was my 2nd favorite of the month after The Girl on the Train. I would highly recommend both of these books as unique mysteries, enjoyable dialog and writing, and great characters.

Gone Girl is in some ways much more literary than the other two books, but also a fascinating read and a great study of some aspects of human psychology and psychopathic tendencies.

Our book group's choice for the March theme is "a book you've been meaning to read" ... if you'd like to join our little group on facebook please shoot me an email (gingerlemongirl at gmail dot com) and I'll send you the link so you can ask to join. We'd love to have you!


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Monday, February 9, 2015

Cooking fresh collard greens (vegetarian, vegan)

photo from finecooking.com

Collards (also called collard greens) get a bad rap. They're green and kinda stinky (really only during a long cooking period)... but they are absurdly cheap, incredibly healthy, and super tasty. Collards are part of the cruciferous family (with kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc...) and they have compounds that can cause bloating and gas for some people... however if you're a fan of greens, don't pass up collards! Here are some interesting facts on this healthy green: 

Medical News Today stated in a recent article
"One cup of boiled collard greens contains 63 calories, 5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrate (including 8 grams of fiber and 1 gram of sugar), over 250% of your daily needs for vitamin A, over 50% of your daily needs for vitamin C, 26% of calcium needs, 12% of iron and 10% of both vitamin B-6 and magnesium." 
They also stated: 
"One cup of boiled collard greens provides a whopping 770 micrograms of vitamin K; well over 100% of the daily-recommended need." 
Like many greens, collards are made primarily of water, which means they cook down to barely nothing (like spinach)..so if you want to make a BIG pot of greens (to last the whole week or for 4-6+ cooked servings) you'll want to buy 2-4 bunches of the fresh greens. 


Collards have tough stalks, which should be removed before cooking. I like collards prepared the old "southern" way, slow cooked and well... (there's really no other good way to say it)... kinda mushy!I know it sounds strange, especially if you're not a fan of southern foods (especially vegetables)... but collards are great when they are braised with a little bit of liquid and seasonings and slow cooked for hours. You can make them in the slow cooker (I actually included a recipe in my cookbook!)... but they are also super easy on the stove. 

I've read that other people like to take whole collard leaves and blanch them briefly to use as a low carb or gluten-free wrap! I haven't tried that, but it's on my to-do list! 


There's no real "recipe" for cooking greens... your measurements don't have to be specific, but basically here's what I used for this very SMALL batch of greens. (For a bigger batch double, triple, or quadruple the recipe!) Take note that I made these greens without any animal products. If you're a fan of meat or pork products this is traditionally made with a ham hock or ham seasoning and they are divine that way too. 

A Small Mess O' Collard Greens
Makes 2-3 large servings.
  • 1 large bunch fresh collard greens, with stems removed and de-veined, and cut into small pieces (cut out the thick, fibrous vein in the center of the leaf -- this makes the collards cook faster and in my opinion makes them more tasty!) 
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large poblano pepper, chopped with seeds and white membrane (ribs) removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup - 3/4 cup water or vegetable broth
Directions: 
  1. In a large dutch oven or stock pot saute onions, garlic, and chopped poblanos in olive oil for 2-3 minutes until softened. 
  2. Add greens, red pepper flakes, and water -or- broth to the pot. 
  3. Cook on medium-high heat and stir continuously for 5-6 minutes until collards are bright green and start shrinking in size. 
  4. Cover pot and turn heat down to low. Continue to cook on low heat for 3-4 hours until greens are softened and yeah... kinda mushy! 
  5. We served this with gluten-free, vegan cornbread, sliced tomatoes with fresh ground pepper, and canned pinto beans


Some kitteh pics for you... just because! :-) 

Whiskey Jack, chillin' in the cat tree!


Mollie... doing her best job keeping me from writing or reading... :-) 


Max happened to get rolled up in the
sheets to be washed on "Caturday" :-P


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Monday, February 2, 2015

2015: The Year of Reading...


The 2015 Reading Challenge. I'm starting now!
A 2015 reading challenge shared by Anne of ModernMrsDarcy.com 

I'm not really sure if I've ever had a year where I didn't read, but this year I'm making it a priority. My friend Shannan shared the above challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy and my interest was immediately piqued. So often I focus on changing my food habits, being mindful of portions and fullness levels, trying to make sure I exercise that I can get overwhelmed with things I feel like I HAVE to do... but reading is such an enjoyable activity for me. 

It's something I love to do, so why not accept a challenge in reading. We started a small little "book club" on face*book to discuss and share about the books we're reading. Each month we're choosing from one of the topics above. So far we've all been choosing different books in each theme and then sharing about what we've learned from them, if we enjoyed them, if we'd read them again, etc... 

For the month of January we chose the topic of "A book that you should have read in high school."  I picked A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. 


One thing I was debating about this challenge was if it mattered whether we read a physical book, an e-book, or listened to an unabridged audio book. As a group we decided that whatever way was easiest and best for us as individuals was perfectly fine. Since I commute to work, I listen to a LOT of books via Audi*ble. I'd even say that 95% of my reading is done through listening. Generally I retain a lot more information that way, and it's easy for me to get involved in a story much more quickly. 

A Tale of Two Cities, however... was a completely different ballgame. First I tried reading a kindle version of the book. That lasted for about 2 chapters. The language is so different from what we're used too in today's times, that I had a really hard time stepping into the story and trying to understand it. Next I found this very old hardback copy from the library I work at. I was able to get through about 100 pages using the hardback copy... but again it was a painful read and I just didn't think I'd ever finish the book reading it in the traditional way. FINALLY, I bought an audio book version on Audi*ble, one that was narrated by Simon Vance (one of my favorite audio book narrators - another book he has read is"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.")  

As much as I love Simon Vance's reading style and voice... I continued to have a very difficult time understanding the varied plot lines, characters, and themes of this book. I can honestly say, I don't think I could have gotten through it in high school. I was determined to finish the book for this challenge though, and by January 29th I had completed listening to it. 

To help me further understand the story I also watched an older movie version on You*Tube, a "Cliffs*notes" cartoon on You*Tube, and I took an online quiz (I got 11 correct... *sigh* lol!) So this book definitely would not have been a great way to start out my high school English semester. 

However, I think if I read a modern day and/or modern English retelling of the story I would probably enjoy it a lot more. The relationship between the father and daughter is sweet and compelling. My favorite characters were the owners of the wine shop, Mr. and Mrs. Defarge just because their personalities were so unique and strong, yet also quite troubled. It would have been much easier to read this book with a teacher's guide to help me understand all of the Christian allegories along with the roles of friendship, loyalty, patriotism, division of classes, etc... There are so many themes rolling together throughout this book it was a challenge for me to try to keep up with them all. 

Have you read a Tale of Two Cities? What are/were your thoughts and feelings on the book? 

Our group decided that for February we could choose a book that's currently on the bestseller list. My personal pick is "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins. I'll share my review and thoughts on that book later this month! I hope you'll join us in challenging yourself to read more this year!


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